Harry Dent: It’s kind of like selling goods to consumers with very bad credit and then being surprised when they don’t pay.
But before I get into that, we all know Greece owes Germany, the ECB, and the IMF a lot of money.
Last week I explained that if they went the “Grexit” route, 75% of Greece’s government debt would’ve been wiped clean. That’s $90 billion to Germany alone and about $250 billion to the rest of the euro zone. It would have hurt, but there’s no avoiding pain at this point, and now it’s only going to be worse.
But there is another level of debt almost no one is talking about.
In fact, we have a harder time getting good information on it because the EU has increasingly hidden it.
However, this debt gets at the heart of why Germany and some of the strongest opponents to a Grexit were so desperate to keep Greece in the euro zone.
This not-much-talked-about debt are the TARGET2 loans Greece (and other euro zone importers) owes the rest of them.
It’s a fancy way of saying “past due accounts receivables.” Another way of saying this: “The check’s in the mail.” Or: “We’ll pay you when we can.”
The idea is that when German or other euro zone companies sell goods to Greek companies, the Greek companies hand off their payment obligations to the Greece central bank. That central bank then owes Germany’s central bank, which then pays the German companies who sold the goods in the first place.
The problem is that the southern European countries – PIIGS, or Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain plus Ireland – import a ton. When Germany sells to Greece, Greece’s central banks collects the money, but doesn’t pay the German central banks. These are called TARGET2 loans.
They’re not really “loans” in the sense that they are involuntary. The German central bank knows that if it pushes too hard for these payments on time, exports will slow or discontinue without such credit extension. It’s either extend credit to these subprime borrowers or lose the sales!
It’s such a huge issue because these economically weaker nations aren’t competitive exporters. They can’t afford these outrageous trade deficits they’re wracking up! They have run increasing trade deficits ever since the euro was created. The currency lets them borrow at a cheaper rate. And the stronger exporting countries are willing to extend credit to keep their gravy train going.
Under this backwards arrangement, Greece owes Germany 100 billion euros, or roughly $109 billion. The broader euro zone – almost totally the PIIGS – owes it 531 billion. That’s almost $580 billion.
This is the most contentious example, but the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Finland are extending credit to these weaker central banks too – though nowhere near the extent of Germany, which holds around 75% of these TARGET2 loans.
The following chart shows the TARGET2 balances across the euro zone. Blue is the extended credit from the four major net exporters. Red is what the five net importers owe them.
Before I even get into this, just take the chart at face value. Look at all that credit. It’s disgusting. We didn’t have this kind of foolishness prior to 2008. Now we live in an age where credit is king. Real value is supposed to be king. Cash is supposed to be king. Not credit. This nonsense has got to stop.
The edge of this graph shows the current balance for all TARGET2 loans: 709 billion euros ($774 billion). It actually peaked at 1.06 TRILLION euros in late 2012. Come on!
This gets at why Germany wasn’t in a hurry to let Greece leave the euro zone. And in fact, why it finally insisted they stay.
In government debt, Greece owes Germany 90 billion euros.